Invasive rats eradicated from Marshall Islands' Irooj islet
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Marshall Islands has completed the eradication of invasive rodents from one of its islets, capping a year-long operation that was tied to its initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change.
“The island feels alive again,” Kennedy Kaneko, the Marshall Islands' national invasive species coordinator, said after the successful removal of rats from Irooj, a small islet that forms part of Majuro.
Launched in 2022, the operation was undertaken by a team from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Commerce, in collaboration with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Program and the global nonprofit Island Conservation.
“Careful monitoring showed zero signs of rats on Irooj. In fact, seabirds and crabs were found in abundance," Kaneko said.
For decades, invasive rodents on Irooj hav destroyed native biodiversity and threatened vulnerable species, including seabirds, crabs and other animals that are crucial to the island-ocean ecosystem.
"Studies have shown that eliminating such threats allows native plants and animals to thrive, which leads to greater nutrient deposits, thereby nourishing both terrestrial and marine organisms throughout the ecosystem," SPREP said. "It is vital for local communities relying on natural resources that this cycle be restored and protected."
In the coming weeks, the Marshall Islands government will conduct similar operations in other rat-infested islets including Calalin, Enemakij, Enekotkot, Bokaetoktok and Lobikaere, as well as the southern Nadikdik (Knox) Atoll.
Richard Griffiths, South and West Pacific regional director at Island Conservation, noted that communities that live and rely on islands are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes.
“Destructive invasive species destroy biodiversity and upset the natural balance of an ecosystem, adding incredible risk to these already susceptible islands," he said. "By removing invasive species, we can build resilient island-ocean ecosystems that serve as a natural defense against climate change impacts.”
“We hope that this is just the start of many more success stories,” Griffiths said. “We know that if we want to maximize the health of our reefs, we need to restart the seabird-driven nutrient cycle that is so important for coral health and sustainability.”
SPREP said interventions require collaboration from all stakeholders – from local community members and government agencies to organizations with vast knowledge of island-ocean ecosystems and refined expertise in conducting eradications.
“As a country, we need to pull out all the stops to adapt to rising sea levels and climate change,” said John Silk, RMI minister for Natural Resources and Commerce.
“Tackling the threat of invasive species is a critical piece of work that often doesn’t get enough attention. We know that removing invasive rats benefits biodiversity, but we often forget that it can help us improve food security, reduce the prevalence of many diseases, and help our reefs at the same time," he added.
The eradication activities are part of the Regional Predator Free Pacific program, within the Pacific Regional Invasive Species Management Support Service of which Island Conservation is a technical lead.
The activities are funded under the GEF 6 Regional Invasive Project or GEF 6 RIP, which aims to develop and implement comprehensive national and regional invasive species management frameworks that help to reduce the threats from invasive species to terrestrial, freshwater, and marine biodiversity in the Pacific.
The GEF 6 RIP is funded by the Global Environment Facility, implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme, and executed by SPREP.